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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

theosZA

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Mayor Heinrich of Heiligenberg
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March 1391

Heinrich, Mayor of Heiligenberg, liked to think that he was a worldly man who was difficult to surprise, but as he approached the encampment on the banks of the Meurthe river upstream of Nanzig he could hardly believe this wasn't the largest army in Europe. Camped here were eighteen thousand men under Count Albrecht von Wittelsbach, an experienced but cautious commander charged with defending Imperial lands from any Anglo-French incursion, while the Kaiser was leading an even larger army into France.

Heinrich had more than a few contacts throughout the English domain and he had a better idea than most of the sort of numbers that could be mustered by the new English king, William III, and in theoretical terms they would match the Imperial armies. But most of those numbers were in Britain tied up fighting against English nobles led by the Duke of Lancaster. It would surely take some time before the Empire met a sizable opposing army.

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At the outskirts of the empcamptment, Heinrich was met by a servant of Eberhard's who took the Mayor's horse and led Heinrich through the mass of soldiers to the Duke's tent. Inside was a well appointed sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the encampment with Duke Eberhard in earnest discussion with a muscular but older gentleman who must surely be Count Albrecht. On seeing Heinrich enter, the two nobles exchanged farewells leaving Heinrich and Eberhard alone together.

"Well, Heinrich," began Eberhard, "I'm glad my missive reach you so soon because you've arrived just in time. We're due to break camp within a day or two."

"My lord, you're marching on France?" asked Heinrich. "Has the English army been sighted within the Empire?"

"Hardly!" laughed Eberhard. "Of course this news is only recently reached here; I'd hardly expect you to know already." Eberhard's comment pricked at Heinrich's pride since that was exactly the role for which Heinrich served on the Duke's council - he was the one who was charged with finding out about events before anyone else. He could see Eberhard's eyes twinkling with excitement that he knew of some momentous tidings before Heinrich, and so Heinrich let Eberhard have his moment: "King William III is dead! Perished in battle against Kaiser Lothar's army in Bourgogne."

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That did catch Heinrich by surprise. "What was William thinking? He couldn't have had the army to take on Lothar so quickly."

"Indeed," responded Eberhard, "it seems William did not inherit his grandfather's political or military acumen. Their army was all but routed when their new king was slain, and now all of English France is open for invasion. It should have been an easy thing to take Artois and get the French lords to accept it as fait accompli before any meaningful English intervention."

"Your tone makes me think the Kaiser has slipped up, made a strategic error of his own?" guessed Heinrich.

Eberhard was enjoying this as he let out another bellowing laugh. "You could say that! Lothar has found himself on the sharp end of a peasant's pitchfork. Discontent in William's French lands has bred a sizable peasant rabble that presumably mistook the Kaiser's army for an English army come to put down their revolt. A needless battle fighting our own enemy's foes and it cost us our glorious Emperor."

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Heinrich was a little troubled by Eberhard's mirth at Lothar's death though he bit his tongue. He wasn't keen to end up on the Duke's bad side.

Eberhard continued, "We hadn't yet received word that Lothar had perished when I requested you join me here, but it's political implications are no less serious. As a Prince Elector of the Empire I will be heading to Carinthia to formally elect the new Emperor."

"Lothar's son, Sieghard, is supposed to be a shoo-in," interjected Heinrich, keen to show that he was in fact in touch with the secret inner dealings of the Empire. "The Habsburg faction has the upper hand at present, and though Sieghard is still a boy, his tutors praise him for intelligence and insight far beyond his years. It would be prudent to be on the right side of that one as he's surely destined for greatness."

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"Indeed Heinrich, I accept your counsel on the matter. Regardless, I do not believe this war against the English will continue. Dare I say it was not very popular with the nobles who considered it a vanity for Lothar, and I expect with their humiliating defeat the English will happily accept any cessation of hostilities without further quarrel.

"Now for the reason I called you here in the first place. At this point in time there stands two great forces in Europe, the Holy Roman Empire and the Anglo-French kingdoms under the House of Plantagenet. I believe your web of contacts extend as far as London, but in these turbulent times I would have you there personally. For the next few years I want you to study their politics, their military capabilities and, most importantly, how they think. Because I don't think this war against the English is going to be the last."

August 1391

The cog that pulled up to the Queenhithe docks upstream of London Bridge was out of Amsterdam and carried Mayor Heinrich of Heiligenberg travelling incognito. The man that disembarked had the look of a desperate Dutch merchant rather than a provincial mayor or Ducal advisor. As he walked the length of the dock, Heinrich didn't merit a glance from the stevedores and sailors that filled the busy wharves.

It didn't take him long to find the object of his search: a seedy alehouse where a distinctive red cape marked his London contact. Heinrich seated himself opposite the man. The noise filling the venue even at this early hour was enough to keep their conversation private.

"Master Arley, I presume," Heinrich said using his passable English. His French was better and that might come in handy when dealing with the nobles, but here and now the common tongue was English.

Red-caped Arley looked relieved to have some company. "Indeed Master Heinrich. Good to finally meet you in person; though I've spent far too many of these recent days waiting for you here, drinking this piss-poor ale."

Heinrich appreciated the Englishman's candour, but he was here for business. "There's trouble in France and my journey here was not without troubles. I've already heard plenty of rumours about what's happening but I want the report from you."

"Indeed ... well, William's eldest son, Eustace, has inherited most of his father's lands, though Wales, Cornwall and some Flemish lands have gone to William's second son also named William.

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"Both are still boys and the English nobles hold the bulk of the power in Eustace's lands. Meanwhile the French nobles are vying to take the throne of France while their is disunity here. First of these is Jean d'Ivrea, Duke of Champagne, an experienced military commander and veteran crusader. Second is Philippe de Bourgogne, the Duke of Burgundy, now that the Empire has lost interest in fighting for his province of Artois.

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"On the other hand, an Irish rebellion has been swiftly crushed, and Duke Martin of Lancaster's rebellion is unlikely to last long as the man himself has contracted the slow fever."

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With the report concluded, Heinrich handed over a pouch of coins. "Good work, Master Arley. I will be residing closer to Westminster for my time here, but I would appreciate continued updates. I will see you here at the same time every fortnight hence. And make sure it's worth the coin."

Arley surreptitiously checked the pouch and responded, "Same time, two weeks from now; don't worry, I won't let you down Master Heinrich."

February 1395

It was a bitterly cold morning with a light rain coming down that seemed so common in this part of the world. Despite the poor weather and early hour, Heinrich had returned to the Queenhithe docks to negotiate passage back to the continent as soon as possible. Three and a half years he'd been in southern England and despite his early reluctance, he'd actually grown to like the place, particularly the organized bedlam that was the City of London.

But a lot had changed in that time and the situation in London was getting a little too hot for his liking. Of course King Eustace had come of age, but seemed to have little interest in the administration of his domain. He gave his trusted nobles free reign to run his various kingdoms while he idly threw extravagent feasts when he wasn't with his armies fighting one rebellion or another. That he was an apt mility leader may have been the king's one saving grace that was holding everything together.

ZGh0hQn.png


King Eustace's wars on the continent against foreign powers had ended with no territory changing hands as the new Holy Roman Emperor had (as predicted) not continued the war for Artois, and neither England nor Aquitaine had the resources to continue their fighting in southern France.

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However the troubled Welsh king, William, was under even greater pressure desperately trying to defend his Flemish lands from the Empire.

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But the real problems were building internally. Duke John of Bedford, of whom the gossips had many scandalous tales to tell, had thrown his support behind Aubrey Plantagenet, the Duke of Cornwall and rebelling Welsh vassal.

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Latest reports had Duke John's army at no more than a few days march from London and the time had certainly come to get away from the city. If nothing else, he'd learned a lot of the unusual customs and politics of the English realm and had more than enough to justify a return to Swabia. And while he might miss the English people, he thought while wiping the rain from his brow, he certainly wasn't going to miss the weather.

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Asantahene

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What a great chapter about the pilgrimage-fantastic writing as always. Looking forward to the next :)
 

theosZA

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Thanks all for the comments and support.

That's impressive number of rebellions. ;)
I realized this was a slight departure from my normal chapters in that it didn't focus on our ruler or part of the world, but England has been so successful this game and with two quick successions they've got into such a state that I just had to include some coverage for them. But yes, this is what happens when you have a young, unlikable ruler in charge of a realm that's grown too quickly. On the other hand, England still has the potential troops to take down the rebellions one-by-one, so we'll have to see what happens.
 
Last edited:

theosZA

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I am traveling for the next few weeks. I had hoped to get out one more chapter before I left but have ended up far too busy. The next chapter will be done when I get back toward the end of September.
 

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I am traveling for the next few weeks. I had hoped to get out one more chapter before I left but have ended up far too busy. The next chapter will be done when I get back toward the end of September.
Looking forward to that theosZA!
 

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Duke Eberhard II of Swabia
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December 1395

Eberhard was making his way through Stuttgart castle, finishing his final checks on the arrangements for the feast. Wherever he walked along the stony corridors, servants scampered out of sight, desperately trying to avoid the Duke's attention and growing anger. A great feast was supposed to be a joyous occassion, something festive to break the gloom of winter, but the tense atmosphere in the castle and Eberhard's stormy mood made it anything but festive.

ap7j3Xn.png


The atmosphere shouldn't have been so tense. After all there was finally peace throughout the Empire. This was after the turmoil where Duke Filibert of Brandenburg had usurped the Kingdom of Denmark from Queen Maria the Wise; and the Emperor, fearful of Filibert's sudden power, had fought a war against him to dismantle the Danish kingdom.

The civil war, short and sharp as it was, had been difficult for Eberhard. While leading troops in the north, he had missed the birth of his second son, Ehrenfried. But he had proven himself on the field of battle against the Danes and at least won some respect from the talented young Kaiser Sieghard.

And now the Danish provinces, including those in Danish Estonia, were firmly part of the Empire with the Danish counts answerable only to the Emperor.

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There might have been cause for sadness at the passing of Eberhard's father-in-law, Friedrich, the Count of Baden; but the man was in his 70's and his passing was not unexpected. With the Count of Baden lacking any male heirs, his wife, Hildeburg, was now officially the Countess of Baden, though she had been confined to Stuttgart during her pregnancy.

6O4C4xL.png


And last week she'd gone into labour unexpectedly early. The midwife had feared for the life of the unborn babe and Eberhard had retired to the castle chapel to earnestly pray that God might spare both mother and child. Hildeburg gave birth to a boy, the couple's third son, and there were no problems with her health.

RnIgNNG.png


They named the baby boy Albrecht, though his health was poor and the prognosis was not good. And this was the real source of Eberhard's foul mood. He felt obligated to celebrate the birth of another son with the vassals and other nobles of the duchy though the fear of the child's death would mar proceedings.

The feast was tonight and Eberhard was busying himself with all the small details to try distract himself from brooding on the sick infant.

His circuit took him to the castle's kitchens where the last few dishes were being prepared. He spied his ward, the young Count Friedrich of Ulm, skulking amonst the cooks' tables, tasting a sauce here and stealing some pork rind there. He was about to chastise the boy when he recalled how in his own innocent youth in Mainz, before he understood that he was a noble and a Duke, that he had aspired to be a kitchen cook.

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The tastes and the scents, the spices and the sauces, they were enough to captivate him as a child and he shouldn't have been surprised that it might do the same to Friedrich. Though the boy was weak, he was extremely pious and God would no doubt guide him to appropriate behaviour in time.

Eberhard forced some good cheer in his demeanour as he approached the boy. "Do these humble dishes meet with your approval, my young Count?"

Unabashed Friedrich responded, "Sooo delicious ... why can't we have food like this all the time?"

"Now, now, Friedrich. You mustn't ruin your appetite. The feast will be starting shortly and I expect you to attend the whole thing."

"I know! I'm so excited! I can't wait to meet all the lords and ladies and the bishops and the other counts."

The boy's enthusiasm was infectious and Eberhard couldn't help but let out a small chuckle. Eberhard wished that he could have been so eager to meet and greet his fellow nobles at that age. His mother, Trude, had had endless troubles dealing with his shyness. Even now he relied on fomality and convention to avoid have to really socialize at these events. Yes, Friedrich would do just fine tonight, but Eberhard worried about himself.

krsKhEg.png


* * *​

Eberhard took another bite of the wild boar, another swig of the French wine, and surveyed the rest of the feast hall. Most of the Swabian lords, gentry and other dignitaries were here (though of course the Baroness of Asperg was still secured in her tower room within the castle). His wife and children were seated at another table where Hildeburg looked fully recovered and was doing what she did best, ingratiating herself with the other nobles.

Eberhard was trying to keep the mood festive at the head table though Thietmar, the Mayor of Reutlingen, having consumed a lot of the wine, was being particularly boorish. Eberhard was chatting with Eginolf, his aunt's husband and former field marshal, amiably discussing some of the battles in Denmark, when he overheard loud complaints from Thietmar about the food - food that incidently Eberhard had spared no expense in procuring.

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Before Eberhard could get upset, the minstrel struck up another tune and conversations died as everyone's attention was caught by his beautiful voice. Again this minstrel had come at a great cost for Eberhard, but Eberhard was not skimping on anything to keep his vassals happy. Fortunately this particular entertainer proved to be a good investment and Eberhard could see all the lords and ladies enjoying the songs with clapping, laughing and cheering in equal measures.

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However once the minstrel's performance was over, it didn't take long for Thietmar to start stirring up trouble again, making disparaging remarks about Eginolf. It seemed Thietmar couldn't care less that Eginolf could hear him, and it would seem that their longstanding rivalry was coming to a head.

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A furious Eginolf knocked over his wine as he stood up, silencing the table. "Thietmar, I will not tolerate your insults any longer. I challenge you to a duel."

Thietmar lacked the good grace to even looked surprised. In fact a sly smile indicated that this was exactly what the mayor had hoped for. Looking to Eberhard, Thietmar responded, "Of course, if the Duke consents..."

All eyes turned to Eberhard in expectation. There was a short moment of doubt - for sure he'd be quite happy to see Thietmar punished by Eginolf, but Eginolf was a man in his fifties and perhaps not the swordsman he once was. He looked to Eginolf, saw confidence in his anger, and announced that the duel should go ahead.

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Space was hastily cleared in the hall and blades were brought up to Eginolf and Thietmar. With cheers erupting throughout the gathered nobles, the two men took their swords and and cautiously approached each other.

With the first few swings, it became apparent that Thietmar had vastly underestimated his older compatriot. Years of experience in real battles had given Eginolf a well-honed combat sense that gave him a large advantage over the younger mayor. Eginolf, eager to embarrass Thietmar, started to toy with him, just batting away any attacks.

The crowd was just starting to grow restless when Eginolf delivered a vicious slice across the legs. Clearly outmatched and with the blood running freely, Thietmar cried out in a pitiful voice, "I yield!"

As Thietmar was helped away to have his wound tended, Eberhard returned to his seat pondering how this feast had turned out - nothing like he expected but it looked like it would end up as a great success. All thoughts of his young baby's struggles were long banished.
 

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Well written sir! A nice interlude and peace at last eh? Let's hope the babe will survive to lighten the Duke's dark humours
 

theosZA

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Thanks Asantahene. I will be including the fate of Albrecht, the sickly infant, in the next chapter or two.
 

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Mayor Heinrich of Heiligenberg, Spymaster for Swabia
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November 1400

Heinrich was last to the castle's council chambers as was his habit. He was a commoner and had no official title on the council other than simply 'Advisor to the Duke', but since his successful mission to England he had nothing to prove - Duke Eberhard trusted him to handle all matters of subterfuge and foreign intelligence in his role as Swabia's spymaster.

As Heinrich enterered he noted a number of new faces. This was the first council meeting since Eginolf's death in the autumn. The sudden death of Eberhard's comrade-in-arms and husband of his late aunt had left the Duke putting off all official business. Eventually Eberhard had had to appoint a replacement to oversee military matters in the duchy and Thietmar, Mayor of Reutlingen, was the only sensible replacement. Thietmar still bore the scars from his ill-intentioned duel with Eginolf five years prior and his envy for Eginolf's position was no secret. Suspicious of Thietmar, Heinrich had investigated Eginolf's death himself, but in the end he had to conclude that it was simply the old warrior's advanced years catching up to him.

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Heinrich took his seat and while the Duke was greeting them all and going through the formalities, Heinrich looked over the rest of the council.

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Bishop Hugo was the Court Chaplain; he was young for a Bishop but well-connected and clearly loyal to the Church.

Philipp, Count of Fürtstenberg, was a recent appointment to the position of Steward. Count Philipp's father, also named Philipp, had long served on the Duke's council but had also recently passed away.

Replacing the departed Count Philipp in the role of Chancellor was Giselbert Niklotid, youngest brother of Albrecht Niklotid who was the husband of Eberhard's eldest sister. With four older brothers and few prospects of inheriting anything significant from his father, the Duke of Mecklenburg, Giselbert had accepted Eberhard's invitation to join his brother here in Stuttgart.

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Giselbert was to be the first to report. Despite this being his first council meeting he looked supremely confident.

"Your Grace, as per your request I have found a suitable match for Heinrich, our mutual nephew. The Baroness Sybille of Slaný in Bohemia is of an age with the boy having just turned 16 herself and would no doubt benefit from a man of our lines to aid in the administration of that barony. I am told the proposal will be accepted if you approve the match..." Giselbert looked to the Duke expectantly.

The Duke didn't seem particularly interested. "Yes, I'm sure that will be fine. Go ahead and make the arrangements."

"Your Grace, may I also suggest you start looking for a future husband for your daughter, Trude. I know she is only 12 years old now, but it would be prudent to start thinking in terms of alliances with the important dynasties within the Empire."

It was quite apparent to Heinrich that this kind of talk was making Eberhard uncomfortable. Eberhard wasn't particularly interested in playing the diplomatic game at the best of times, and when it involved his sweet young daughter, even less so. "Um, yes, of course... Mayor Thietmar, what news from the war?"

This grabbed the room's attention, as everyone was interested to hear of the fighting against the Welsh. Thietmar indulged the room by providing detailed accounts of the battles fought in Flanders and the Netherlands. Of course Thietmar would never be found within a hundred miles of a battle and the accounts were no doubt third-hand or just plain fabricated. Heinrich's own sources indicated that the Welsh had negligible forces to defend their Flemish holdings.

Eventually Thietmar concluded by reporting the surrender of the Welsh and the Emperor's confiscation of the province of Guines on the English Channel.

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Eberhard cut Thietmar off lest the Mayor dwell on further trivialities, and motioned to Bishop Hugo that he should report. The young Court Chaplain had been waiting patiently but was now evidently quite eager to deliver his news.

"After consultation with all the Imperial princes, the Emperor has seen fit to discard some of the limits imposed on secular powers by the Concordat of Worms, claiming the right for princes to both appoint and invest bishops without regard for the traditional rights of the Church to elect and invest their own candidates."

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Eberhard looked suitably contrite. "You know my own feelings on the matter and I ask that you let it be known within the Church that I opposed Kaiser Sieghard on this matter. And even if the Emperor has granted me the right to choose any bishops I should please, I would always follow the counsel of Rome to direct me as to worthy clergy."

From the Chancellor, Giselbert, "The young Emperor is very popular and until now you were in his favour. I hope this doesn't strain the relationship between the two of you. I would suggest going to extra lengths to have him overlook this blemish."

Eberhard responded rather angrily, "I won't change my mind on this issue! The Emperor's authority lasts only a lifetime while God's will last forever - there is never a question of who to place first."

"No, of course not, my good Duke," came Giselbert's quick response. "I merely suggest some other gesture in the future might be appropriate; something that would overshadow any doubts the Emperor might have of you. Let us think on it, shall we? I don't mean to put this council meeting off track. Let's continue," he said, motioning toward Heinrich.

Finally, thought Heinrich, though he'd been dreading this moment for days now. He put off the inevitable for a few minutes while he filled the council in on the latest developments from his contacts in Britain. The English were still in the midst of civil war and the Scottish had taken advantage of their troubles, successfully winning the Isle of Man from their southern neighbours.

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As he concluded, he hoped against hope that Eberhard would just skip on to Count Philipp. But then the question from the Duke: "What of the matter involving the Baroness of Asperg? Have you learned anything of her untimely death?"

Heinrich chose his words carefully. "I have indeed, my lord. Though before I provide those details, I must ask if you truly want to hear them. After all, hasn't it worked out for the best? Now Asperg will go to your third son, spared an infant's grave by the grace of God, ensuring land for all your sons and prosperity for the von Württembergs."

"The Baroness was my prisoner; my responsibility. Whoever did this deed has shamed me and my family's name, and only justice will serve. Go ahead, my good Mayor - I would know everything."

Two weeks prior

Heinrich scampered out of the tower room, making a hasty retreat from the crazy woman held prisoner there. Twenty-four years of solitude had driven the Baroness of Asperg to madness. Incoherent ramblings preceded violent outbursts and Heinrich knew he'd make no progress here.

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Under his breath he cursed that damned Philipp. The new Count of Fürtstenberg, fearing for the life of the Baroness, had asked for her to be released. Naturally Duke Eberhard had refused as he couldn't stand to see a child- and kin-slayer freed. He had, however, taken the Count's concerns seriously and so asked Heinrich to start an investigation.

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And so here he was - the Baroness wasn't going to be a help. He had a contact who said he might have some information and he'd be meeting him tonight at one of the seedier taverns in Stuttgart. Naturally he couldn't be seen in such an establishment as the Mayor of Heiligenberg, and so went off to change into his guise as a Dutch merchant.

An hour later, just as he was heading out into the city, he became aware of a commotion that had beset the castle. A few questions later and he'd learned the Baroness was now dead, apparently suffocated while the guard had been knocked out by a sleeping draught. Although he'd like to return to the Baroness's chamber, his meeting with his contact was that much more urgent. His coach was waiting him for at the castle entrance and he had the driver race to the tavern as fast he could.

The streets of the city were quiet - the pandemonium seemed contained within the castle - and he reached the tavern within half an hour. His contact, Carsten, was already waiting and, pulling Heinrich to a table in the corner, whispered, "It's already happened, hasn't it? I believe they're already here. That group over there, servants from the castle; they started coming to this tavern a few weeks ago. Quite far out of their way, and always talking in hushed voices."

Walking up to the small group of servants was a tall man, a soldier by the look of him - Heinrich thought he recognized him as one of the castle's guards. After a brief discussion the man passed over a cloth bag; payment perhaps? Heinrich got up to follow the man as he left the tavern. Although the servants might have been the guilty party, he needed to trace this back to the source and find out who was behind the conspiracy.

It didn't take long for the man to reach the coach stationed behind the tavern (and not far from Heinrich's own). He opened the coach door to get in, giving the briefest of opportunities for Heinrich to glance inside and see the elderly woman seated inside - Trude de Luxembourg, mother of the Duke.

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The council meeting continues

Furious, Eberhard stood up, knocking over a full goblet of wine over pieces of parchment prompting the rest of the council to flinch. "You should have come to me immediately! Her behvaiour is intolerable and I will have her arrested at once.

"This council is dismissed. Heinrich, fetch me the Captain of the Guard."

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Asantahene

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Wait! Hang on! Duke Eberhard's mother?
 

theosZA

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Yip, the Duke's mother (who was the POV character of Chapter 8). The poor lady was probably just trying to look out for her son's best interests while being pretty mediocre at the sneaky-sneaky game.
 

Asantahene

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Yip, the Duke's mother (who was the POV character of Chapter 8). The poor lady was probably just trying to look out for her son's best interests while being pretty mediocre at the sneaky-sneaky game.
Arite cool
 

theosZA

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Trude von Württemberg, Daughter of the Duke of Swabia
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April 1404

It was a beautiful spring morning in Mainz. The young daughter of the Duke of Swabia, Trude von Württemberg, looked out from her carriage as a flock of birds took flight from the side of the road. Surely a good omen for her wedding, she thought. However the city itself was looking a bit run down to her eye; it was nothing on Stuttgart at the moment where her father had been running numerous building programs. New walls for Stuttgart castle had been recently completed and now the artisans were at work improving the keep itself.

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As they got further into the city, the commoners on the road had to make way for the carriage. Most were heading in the same direction as them, no doubt hoping to catch a glimpse of the wedding for themselves. Among their number she could see the war-wounded: those with battle-scarred faces and lost limbs. The war itself was over; the County of Artois had been won for the Empire from the English. Even though England's civil wars were a thing of the past and both Wales and Castile had come to the aid of England, the might of the Imperial juggernaut was impossible to stop. The returning knights and footsoldiers were lauded as heroes, though in the privacy of his own castle, her father had declared such bullying of fellow Christian nations as selfish and unbecoming of the Empire.

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It wasn't long before they arrived at St. Martin's Cathedral. The crowd was thickest here but they parted for Trude's carriage. The footman opened the carriage door and helped Trude alight. She took a few moments to take it all in - the cheering of the crowd; the beautiful façade of the cathedral; the anticipation of what was to come - before taking the arm of her father, the Duke, who would escort her to the altar inside.

The interior was unimaginably vast and the cathedral was filled to capacity. It seemed like all the nobles of the Empire were here today. And they were all watching her as she walked, mustering up as much confidence as she could, her heart beating faster than a horse's gallop. Ahead she spied the rest of her family, given a place of prominence on this august occassion. Their presence here calmed her somewhat.

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There was just a slight twinge of regret ... her grandmother, her namesake, Trude, wouldn't be here today. Imprisoned for a supposed conspiracy to eliminate some dishonourable Baroness, she passed away last October. Although forbidden from seeing her these last three years, she'd snuck in a few visits regardless. And her grandmother had been so happy to hear of her betrothal - the one thing the Duke had done right according to her.

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First she passed the Bohemian contigent. There was Trude's aunt, Cecilie, seated alongside her husband, Erich, King of Bohemia. She remembered growing up in Stuttgart Castle always tailing Cecilie, looking up to her as the elder sister she'd never had; growing angry when she learned she'd be leaving for some other castle; and then finally becoming jealous of her when she understood that she was now a Queen, married to the King of Bohemia no less. Well, haven't the tables turned now, she thought as she glanced back at her aunt.

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And then she was almost at the frontmost pew where her brothers were standing. Adalhard was her eldest brother, not much older than her, and was struggling to maintain decorum while keep her younger brothers under control. She couldn't help but smile at him. Born barely a year apart, the two of them had enjoyed many misadventures together including numerous late night raids on the kitchens. Of course when her father had caught them, he'd blamed her for being a disruptive influence on his precious son and heir. Never mind that it was Adalhard's idea in the first place; she'd never have been daring enough to do such deeds herself.

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Well the two of them were to go their separate ways now - she into her marriage and, if the castle gossip was to believed, he'd shortly be wed to the youngest daughter of the Duke of Saxony if the marriage negotiations were successful.

Her middle brother, Ehrenfried, was completely unlike them. He was as sweet an 11-year old boy as one could imagine. He had all the best qualities one could want of a noble, virtues that would shame a saint. If the world was a fair place, he'd have been the next Duke of Swabia and a Prince Elector instead of being destined to be just another of the Empire's hundred Counts.

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Seated near her brothers was Beatrix, Countess of Brandenburg. And there was a perfect picture of why the world wasn't a fair place - you had to take what you could get and sometimes make desperate alliances for your family's survival. Not so long ago Beatrix was a Duchess in her own right, but the Emperor stripped her of her title and much of her lands since she refused to remarry and let a man manage the Duchy. Now she had betrothed her only child, a young daughter named Helene, to Trude's youngest brother, little Albrecht. With the Duke of Swabia invested in the future of Brandenburg, it seemed unlikely the Emperor would make any further moves for her lands.

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Albrecht himself was only 8 and seemed to have a habit for getting into trouble that would put her and Adalhard's antics to shame. Even now Adalhard was struggling to keep the boy under control. Just a few days ago her father had finally had enough and decided Albrecht would be given a religious education under the Archbishop of Köln.

This was the start, she thought. The family would all be going their separate ways shortly. She would depart with her husband; little Albrecht would depart with the Archbishop; Adalhard would no doubt soon be married himself; and even her mother had made it clear she would be returning to her seat in Baden rather than head back to Stuttgart. Well, nothing stays the same forever, and Trude was a woman now, ready to take the first steps into her future.

And finally she was here, climbing a few steps up to the altar of the main nave. And after hearing so much about him, here at last was her betrothed in the flesh, wearing his most glorious ceremonial armour; every inch the paramount warrior; noted for his courage on the field of battle and by all reports a strategic genius. Here was the man who would be father to her children and she couldn't be happier - she would be the wife of the Emperor. As she approached, Kaiser Sieghard turned to her and smiled, and her heart leapt.

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theosZA

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Duke Eberhard II of Swabia
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June 1414

A rush of sights, sounds, smells washed over Duke Eberhard as he stood in the middle of the fairgrounds surveying the scene. He and the rest of his party were dressed down so as not to draw attention to themselves, just giving themselves a chance to experience the fair untainted by sycophantic entertainers or greedy merchants. Already he could see his manservant had been distracted by a dancing monkey and his bodyguard by a skillful display of knife juggling.

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As Eberhard resumed his stroll, the others fell back around him again. Every few yards, Eberhard would stop to watch another performance or sample another delicacy. If nothing else, this fair had been a good distraction for him. His eldest son and heir, Adalhard, was seriously ill and had been for several weeks with no sign given that he might recover. Neither priests nor bloodletters had improved his condition and Eberhard had spent most of that time praying for his son in the castle's chapel. But here in the sunshine, among the crowds, Eberhard could indeed enjoy himself for a little while.

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His other two companions were Bishop Franz and Eberhard's second son, Ehrenfried. While Ehrenfried seemed to be loving the experience, the poor Bishop was struggling. It had been twenty-four years since their pilgrimage together and Franz was no longer the active man he once was.

Franz's mood was souring and Eberhard overheard him muttering about how this whole enterprise was a frivolous waste. Eberhard pretended he hadn't heard, but he knew better. Ehrenfried was serving as the Duchy's steward and under his supervision the coffers were full. A fair was just the thing to keep the peasants happy while taxation was high. It was in fact Ehrenfried's idea to host a fair and it was indeed working out splendidly.

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As they reached the edge of the fairgrounds, while waiting for Bishop Franz to catch up, Ehrenfried approached his father. "Father, you look happier than I think I've seen you in many years."

This immediately put Eberhard on edge. What could prompt his son to start his conversation like that? He feared for what Ehrenfried might say next, but made a non-commital nod and gestured for him to continue.

"You heard the news of the passing of great-uncle Heinrich along with the rest of us. For five decades he was a hero of the Knights of Calatrava and a paragon for this family. Moreover he is an inspriation to me and I wish to honour his memory by joining the Knights."

Aha! So this was it, thought Eberhard. It was unforunate: not only was Ehrenfried a great Steward, but the one solace Eberhard had was that should his eldest son die, his second son was more than capable of picking up the mantle. But Eberhard knew his sons and he though he understood: the young Ehrenfried is actually afraid of becoming Duke should Adalhard not recover; this might be his last chance to renounce that responsibility.

While Eberhard had been mulling this over, Bishop Franz rejoined the party. Breathlessly he interrupted, "What did I miss?"

Eberhard tried to return to his previous cheerful demeanour and responded, "My son wishes to join a Holy Order; follow in the footsteps of his great-uncle." Eberhard clapped Ehrenfried on the back - "And of course I will give him my blessing. Though it grieves me to lose such a precious son, I am heartened by the knowledge that he will be doing God's will against the heathens."

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"Thank you, father. Now if you'll excuse me, I will retire to the castle to make preparations for my departure." Ehrenfried gave a polite bow to the party and started back around the fairgrounds.

Eberhard turned to the rest of his party. "I'm sorry but I'm no longer in a particularly festive mood. The woods are no more than half a mile from here, and I think I'd prefer a quiet contemplative walk there this afternoon."

Bishop Franz responded, "Well naturally we'll accompany you - for your own safety. But I understand this is a sudden, potentially daunting, change you're facing and we'll keep to monastic silence for the afternoon if that's what you prefer." Eberhard's bodyguard and manservant both nodded. "But for what it's worth, I think you made the right decision. God rewards the faithful and devout in this life and the next."

And so they kept their silence. Ten minutes later saw them entering the Duke's hunting wood and following the course of a small stream. The quiet of the wood was suddenly disturbed by noises off to the party's right. It didn't sound like an animal and Eberhard's bodyguard had his sword out in a flash. But he couldn't stop the arrow that came flying through the air, striking the guard in the neck and putting him out of the fight immediately. There was a cry of alarm from Bishop Franz who dove to the ground, while Eberhard and his manservant both started running in opposite directions as more arrows rained down.

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Eberhard hadn't got more than a dozen yards when a figure stepped out from behind a tree and he felt a sharp pain to the side of his head. His knees gave out from under him and the world went black.

A few days later

Eberhard had accepted the fact that he was a prisoner. His accomodations were quite comfortable: a well-appointed room in a noble's manor house (somewhere to the west of Stuttgart, he thought), but he was under guard 24 hours a day and not allowed to leave. Alas he hadn't yet seen his captor and his guards weren't talking. He couldn't imagine who in their right mind would risk the wrath of the Emperor, his son-in-law, to take Eberhard captive? And for what reason?

If nothing else the last few days had given Eberhard ample time to reflect on his life. He was now 51 years old and what had he accomplished? His crusades and pilgrimage were long behind him and even so had brought nothing of lasting value to his Duchy. If pushed he might claim that he brought stability and economic prosperity, though in truth that was always the work of other men who served him on his council. And now his family was fractured with his wife now living in Baden; his daughter married to the Emperor; his second son leaving for Iberia while his first son lay at death's door.

In the end, Eberhard decided that he would regret nothing - he always did what he felt was the right thing to do and would continue to do so for the rest of his life, however short it might end up being considering his current circumstances.

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A commotion outside drew Eberhard to the window and he saw the arrival of an ornate carriage which he recognized immediately. He prepared himself for the inevitable. Five minutes later and his wife, Hildeburg, the Countess of Baden, was admitted to his room. Eberhard always remained courteous and he got to his feet to address the Countess. "My good wife, my heart gladdens at the sight of you. But I must ask: are you here to free me or are you the architect of my captivity?"

Hildeburg just shook her head and responded, "You brought this on yourself, you know. For your multitude of sins against me, I name you my prisoner and I will judge your fate."

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Eberhard couldn't believe it had come to this. In truth, since the birth of their last child 18 years ago, there had been little love in their marriage. And they had seen little of each other since her departure to reside in Baden. Aphorisms about abscence making the heart grow fonder were a minstrel's lie. And yet Eberhard had sworn a marriage vow and so protested, "You are my wife. I have always honoured and respected you. I ensured our boys and girl grew up as godly children. I have ensured your own safety even though Duke Norbert, known as the Ill-Ruler, has cast greedy eyes on your lands. And I have always kept my body only for you - just last week I turned down the attentions of a young courtier, Jutta, because our marriage still means something to me."

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"You don't understand." She sighed and paused for a while, absent-mindedly rubbing the old scar on her left cheek. "You never understood me and I don't think you ever will." A longer pause this time as she paced the length of the room. Eberhard waited patiently, not sure what he could do to make her change her mind.

Finally she spoke again, "I hear from Ehrenfried that the Duchy of Swabia has more silver now than ever. You're free to go if you'll share that wealth with your dear wife. I'm sure you can find the money to fund some repairs and improvements to the Florentinerberg New Castle."

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So it was about money then? Eberhard realized then that he indeed did not understand his wife. He thought that there was a time when he understood her; when she took simple joy from her family and children. Now ... he really had lost her.

Two weeks later

Eberhard was riding back to Stuttgart with an escort of fifty horsemen. No one was taking any chances for this return trip. The horse he rode was a "gift" from his wife, given to him in exchange for his generous "donation" to her construction projects. There hadn't been any official announcements of what had transpired, but everyone knew or at least suspected. As a result the knights who rode with him treated this like a march through hostile territory and the miles were covered intolerably slowly.

But finally they were almost back with the sight of Stuttgart Castle a few miles distant. As they approached, the deafening clatter of hooves was overpowered by pealing bells from the city. Eberhard immediately grew concerned. It wasn't a Sunday and it was the middle of the day. Something was very wrong! He spurred his horse on as he out-galloped his escort back to the castle.

A welcoming party was there to greet him on his return with Bishop Franz front and centre. Franz still sported a nasty cut on his cheek from their "battle" and it served only to emphasize his mournful expression. As Eberhard dismounted, Franz kept his eyes downcast. "I'm sorry my Duke, but your son, Adalhard passed away in the early hours of the morning."

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Emerging from the Bishop's shadow was Albrecht, his youngest son - just 18 years old and now his heir. Educated by Otto, the Archbishop of Köln, Albrecht would rather bury his head among ancient scrolls than face up to ruling a Duchy. Eberhard had given him the responsibility of Court Chaplain and he'd mostly just shirked those duties. Yet as his son approached him now, he sensed that something had changed.

Albrecht knelt down before his father and started speaking quietly to him so that the assembled crowd had to strain to hear. "It's okay, father. We can't begin to understand God's plan. But if he has chosen me to one day rule this Duchy, then I will do so by living up to your legacy of honour and wisdom."

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Asantahene

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Imprisoned by his own wife? Wow! How has that happened?

And I don't like the looks of your heirs stats...not one bit
 

theosZA

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Imprisoned by his own wife? Wow! How has that happened?

And I don't like the looks of your heirs stats...not one bit

Good question. She got that intrigue focus and then picked someone at random on whom to use the kidnap ability. At least crazy AI choices can keep us on our toes.

For my heir - his stats are a bit pants, but he's a different sort of character so could be an interesting one to play and write.
 

Asantahene

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Cr
Good question. She got that intrigue focus and then picked someone at random on whom to use the kidnap ability. At least crazy AI choices can keep us on our toes.

For my heir - his stats are a bit pants, but he's a different sort of character so could be an interesting one to play and write.
crazy AI indeed haha :p
 

theosZA

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Giselbert Niklotid, Chancellor of Swabia
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January 1417

As Giselbert approached the castle's Great Hall, he took a brief moment to once again appreciate the sumptuous accomodations provided for the diplomats in the Emperor's castle. The place was a lot quieter than usual though. Many of the nobles who should be here were im the west, fighting alongside the Emperor in his war against Aquitaine.

With King Eustace reuniting the Welsh and English thrones and the English civil war long past, a tug-of-war had begun over the County of Bar. Nominally loyal to the French throne in Aquitaine, they were an exclave trapped between English France and the Empire. Kaiser Sieghard had made the first move to ensure it became an Imperial possession rather than increase the English king's vast holdings.

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And so war it was with Kaiser Sieghard himself leading the charges. The first major battle of war, near the Château de Vaudémont, was a defeat for the Imperial army. The few reports from the front that managed to reach the heart of the Empire were confusing: some said the Emperor was killed in battle; others that he was taken captive; and yet others that he was gravely injured. However all agreed that there was a real possibility that a new Emperor would have to be chosen.

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And so Giselbert found himself here in Leiningen again, trying to weave his way through Imperial politics on behalf of Duke Eberhard II of Swabia. And not easily one might add - his fits were only getting worse. His manservant, Hugo, God bless his steadfastness, had to continually attend him lest he embarrass himself in front of other dignitaries. While others might imagine his troubles as a Blessing of Tongues, if they saw what he was really like in one of his fits, they'd call him the Devil's own get. And so Hugo remained Giselbert's constant companion, quiet and attentive.

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The natural successor was clearly the son of Kaiser Sieghard and Trude von Württemberg, the 10-year old Prince Gautselin. As well as being the Habsburg heir, the boy was also second in the line of succession to the Duchy of Swabia, and the Kaiser's popularity would normally guarantee that his dynasty continue to wear the Imperial crown. But with the Emperor away there was open talk of how the boy was too young and weak to rule. Perhaps the boy would grow into the role in time, but there was a reluctance to gamble on the Empire's future.

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The next obvious candidate for the Empire might be the King of Bohemia. However the recent death of King Erich de Luxembourg (Duke Eberhard's brother-in-law) without sons led to a short reign for Wenzel Piast followed quickly by Nikolaus Opavan Premyslid. Coming from a cadet branch of the Premyslid dynasty, the new King was not seriously considered for the Emperorship.

But there was one surprising candidate that had, with Giselbert's help, been getting some support: his own Duke of Swabia, Eberhard. As the great-great-grandson of Kaiser Heinrich de Luxembourg through his mother, Trude de Luxembourg, he had a tenuous but valid claim. First to suggest Eberhard for the title was Otto, the Archbishop of Köln. Not so long ago he had served as the guardian of Albrecht, now the heir to the Duchy of Swabia, and counted Eberhard as a friend.

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Indeed many in the Church considered Eberhard a friend to the faith. He was well regarded as one of the few in the Empire to lead a crusading army to the Holy Land; as one of the few who performed a proper pilgrimage to Rome; as the Duke who refused to endorse the Kaiser's controversial proclamation of Free Investiture; and lately as a generous patron to various Church causes including significant financial support to the Teutons.

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And so along with the Archbishop of Köln, the Archbishops of Trier and Mainz were secure votes in Eberhard's favour. But they would also need secular votes to win an election and to this end Giselbert had begged Eberhard to make the Duchy's vast treasury available to him. Eberhard was reluctant but eventually acquiesced.

Some of that money had already been well spent, greasing some palms. For example, Johann-Heinrich was the 9-year old Duke of Tyrol and his regent, Norbert, the Bishop of Chur, was inclined to support Eberhard in exchange for a "gift" to the Duke - silver which no doubt never left the Bishop's pockets if Giselbert's judgement of character was accurate (and it usually was).

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Most recently Giselbert had returned from a quick excursion to the Low Countries to talk with Bernhard, Duke of Gelre. The man was a pleasant host and was well regarded by his peers. Giselbert had hoped to appeal to his better nature to convince him to support Eberhard. But an incident on his first night in the Duke's castle caused Giselbert to change his tack.

Although many were off fighting in the Kaiser's war, Giselbert was just one of many nobles being entertained by the Duke that night, with many of those nobles being wives and daughters of their absent men. This arrangement raised some alarm in Giselbert's suspicious mind and, after everyone retired for the night, he sent out Hugo to see what Bernhard might be up to. Hugo returned an hour later to confirm the Duke had indeed found his way to a bedchamber presently occupied by a young Baroness. No proof was needed; just mere insinuation in the diplomatic language of their discussions the following day. Now Giselbert couldn't say for certain whether that swung the Duke's support in their favour, but it surely didn't hurt.

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Now most of the prince electors or their representatives were here in Leiningen, and in Giselbert's estimation the election hung in the balance. With Giselber's efforts so far Eberhard held 6 votes (including the Swabian vote itself) while Prince Gautselin only had 4 secure votes. But there were still 8 votes unaccounted for and Giselbert was already reviewing the electors and planning how to get the majority to support Eberhard.

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His first target was his nephew, Liutpold the Fat, Duke of Mecklenburg, who must have every vice documented in the Bible and didn't care at all what anyone though of him. He hoped to invoke some sort of family ties here, but he was not hopeful.

Liutpold's grotesque form was easy to spot from across the Grand Hall and so Giselbert, with Hugo in tow, started making his way steadily in that direction, while also acknowledging the other nobles and bishops who were present.

Before Giselbert could even make it halfway, a messenger burst in to the hall, clad in the Swabian colours of gold and black. Even without the colours Giselbert would have recognized him as Alberich, a messenger in Duke Eberhard's employ who had delivered many messages between Giselbert and the Duke. He looked hopelessly out of breath as if he'd been riding hard to get here. He could have made the trip from Stuttgarrt in 3 days if he'd pushed hard and Giselbert reckoned he probably had.

Giselbert made his way back toward Alberich as quickly as was polite. As he was approached, Alberich started hurriedly speaking, the words just tumbling out. "I'm sorry Herr Giselbert; Eberhard had planned to join you here in Leiningen, but ... well ... we all know he had no great designs of his own for the Imperial crown; they say his heart betrayed him rather than allow greater power to corrupt his nobility."

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Wait - what? The Duke was dead? Surprise and fury washed through Giselbert in equal measure. And then his own body started to betray him. His hands started to shake and his vision began to blur, and this once Giselbert didn't care who might see the crazed form he would assume. And just like that Hugo was taking his elbow and pulling him out of the hall. Such a good man, that Hugo - thought Giselbert - protecting me from myself.
 
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